Posts tagged ‘Brian Greene’

August 22nd, 2012

Word of the Week Wednesday: Braneworld

by Max Andrews

Word of the Week: Braneworld

Definition: The braneworld is a contemporary picture of our universe, which speculates that our visible universe may be confined to a three-dimensional volume which resides in a higher-dimensional space. This picture is motivated by superstring theory and M-theory. Brane is short for ‘membrane,’ the fundamental object of a scenario of the high-energy physics of braneworld (or brane cosmology).

September 7th, 2011

The Theological Attraction of the Multiverse

by Max Andrews

I find the multiverse to be quite beautiful.  The multiverse doesn’t negate any cosmological or teleological argument and I believe that it may actually be used to strengthen the fine-tuning argument (my current area of research).  Most objections I hear in regards to whether or not it exists are usually scientific with a few philosophical reasons.  I’d argue that there are some good scientific reasons* for believing that we live in a multiverse but I’d like to provide some philosophical and theological reasons for why the multiverse is attractive to and compatible with Christianity.  (For a refresher in the types of multiverse models see Max Tegmark’s paper on the Multiverse Hierarchy).

My first point of attraction to the multiverse is that it expresses the infinite creativity of God. Some argue (i.e. Salem) that there is an infinite ensemble of universes (or what we know as our own Hubble volume) within the CDL (Coleman and De Luccia) landscape.  Others have argued (i.e. Linde and Vilenkin) that the multiverse is not infinite but finite.  Andrei Linde suggests that from what we know about slow-roll inflation there must be a number close to 10^10^10^7 (that’s three exponents) universes.  I tend to agree with Linde and Vilenkin for obvious philosophical reasons and the impossibility of an actual infinite (however, it is nice to have supporting scientific data). So, even with a finite set of universes that may currently exist there is still a possibility of a potential infinite, that is, more universes that will naturally come into existence in the future.  I don’t believe this would contradict Genesis 1 with God resting on the seventh day because I don’t believe he is still creating today, the continual process of universes coming into existence is by natural means (just as planet formation, star formation, and the creation of human beings today is natural).  I believe we are still in the seventh day of creation.  While reading through the Bible, especially Job, we see that God enjoys and delights in the very act of creating.  His creation varies in sizes, purposes, shapes, and other physical descriptions (God loves the platypus!). What else could be such a reflection of God’s love for creating other than the multiverse?  Imagine the joy and aesthetic beauty in the creating process!

My second point is that despite is prima facie complexity, the concept of the multiverse is quite simple.  Ockham’s razor isn’t a very good objection to the multiverse because certain facets are required of an explanation in order for it to be a good explanation. In this case, simplicity doesn’t necessitate a smaller number of universes.  In his book, Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, Paul Davies has argued in his essay “Universe from Bit” that the concept of infinity is actually quite simple and may be just as preferable to one.

My third point is that the concept of and the models of the multiverse are simple and elegant.  What I mean by this is that the mathematics behind the multiverse correspond to the empirical evidence and that it neatly explains the known facts.  Not only is it mathematically and scientifically simple and elegant but, as I’ve already argued, the philosophical aesthetic of the multiverse is quite beautiful as well.

Finally, I want to provide a compatibility argument.  This isn’t really meant to support my position but to demonstrate that there aren’t any crucial Christological problems with the multiverse (problems of explanation may arise but there aren’t any heretical issues at hand).  No matter which level of the multiverse we want to consider, God’s sovereignty and providential role in the course of history is not compromised.  Let’s consider the most extreme cases such as the level three and level four multiverse models (especially in light of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics).  Let’s say that everything that can happen does happen on the physical level.  Presupposing God’s sovereignty and providential action in the course of any history such a physical interpretation doesn’t mean that all states of affairs are actualized.  What I mean by this is that we don’t have a multiverse where physics are running amok and God is reacting to the physics.  For God to have a reaction to physical states of affairs would place the states of affairs logically prior to God’s knowledge of such states of affairs occurring (let’s disregard the multilayered middle knowledge hermeneutic for the moment).  So, if the purpose of creation is for God to glorify himself and to redeem a particular people, that doesn’t mean it still cannot be accomplished because what’s going to happen is going to happen according to God’s desires and plans, even if there are other me’s out there (now I’ll address such Christological questions in another post, but for this post I’ll provide my position that there aren’t any problems with it).

The early Church Father Origen provided some interesting insight on this very issue (I find it interesting I’m using Origen here…).  Here are a few sections from De Principiis:

Bk. 2, Ch. 3.

4.  And now I do not understand by what proofs they can maintain their position, who assert that worlds sometimes come into existence which are not dissimilar to each other, but in all respects equal.  For if there is said to be a world similar in all respects (to the present), then it will come to pass that Adam and Eve will do the same things which they did before:  there will be a second time the same deluge, and the same Moses will again lead a nation numbering nearly six hundred thousand out of Egypt; Judas will also a second time betray the Lord; Paul will a second time keep the garments of those who stoned Stephen; and everything which has been done in this life will be said to be repeated,—a state of things which I think cannot be established by any reasoning, if souls are actuated by freedom of will, and maintain either their advance or retrogression according to the power of their will.  For souls are 273not driven on in a cycle which returns after many ages to the same round, so as either to do or desire this or that; but at whatever point the freedom of their own will aims, thither do they direct the course of their actions.  For what these persons say is much the same as if one were to assert that if a medimnus of grain were to be poured out on the ground, the fall of the grain would be on the second occasion identically the same as on the first, so that every individual grain would lie for the second time close beside that grain where it had been thrown before, and so the medimnus would be scattered in the same order, and with the same marks as formerly; which certainly is an impossible result with the countless grains of a medimnus, even if they were to be poured out without ceasing for many ages.  So therefore it seems to me impossible for a world to be restored for the second time, with the same order and with the same amount of births, and deaths, and actions; but that a diversity of worlds may exist with changes of no unimportant kind, so that the state of another world may be for some unmistakeable reasons better (than this), and for others worse, and for others again intermediate.  But what may be the number or measure of this I confess myself ignorant, although, if any one can tell it, I would gladly learn.

5.  But this world, which is itself called an age, is said to be the conclusion of many ages.  Now the holy apostle teaches that in that age which preceded this, Christ did not suffer, nor even in the age which preceded that again; and I know not that I am able to enumerate the number of anterior ages in which He did not suffer.  I will show, however, from what statements of Paul I have arrived at this understanding.  He says, “But now once in the consummation of ages, He was manifested to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”20822082    Heb. ix. 26.  For He says that He was once made a victim, and in the consummation of ages was manifested to take away sin.  Now that after this age, which is said to be formed for the consummation of other ages, there will be other ages again to follow, we have clearly learned from Paul himself, who says, “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us.”20832083    Eph. ii. 7.  He has not said, “in the age to come,” nor “in the two ages to come,” whence I infer that by his language many ages are indicated.  Now if there is something greater than ages, so that among created beings certain ages may be understood, but among other beings which exceed and surpass visible creatures, (ages still greater) (which perhaps will be the case at the restitution of all things, when the whole universe will come to a perfect termination), perhaps that period in which the consummation of all things will take place is to be understood as something more than an age.  But here the authority of holy Scripture moves me, which says, “For an age and more.”20842084    In sæculum et adhuc.  Now this word “more” undoubtedly means something greater than an age; and see if that expression of the Saviour, “I will that where I am, these also may be with Me; and as I and Thou are one, these also may be one in Us,”20852085    Cf. John xvii. 24, 21, 22. may not seem to convey something more than an age and ages, perhaps even more than ages of ages,—that period, viz., when all things are now no longer in an age, but when God is in all.

Bk.1, Ch.1, #7

Moreover, in confirmation and explanation of what we have already advanced regarding the mind or soul—to the effect that it is better than the whole bodily nature—the following remarks may be added.  There underlies every bodily sense a certain peculiar sensible substance,19481948    “Substantia quædam sensibilis propria.” on which the bodily sense exerts itself.  For example, colours, form, size, underlie vision; voices and sound, the sense of hearing; odours, good or bad, that of smell; savours, that of taste; heat or cold, hardness or softness, roughness or smoothness, that of touch.  Now, of those senses enumerated above, it is manifest to all that the sense of mind is much the best.  How, then, should it not appear absurd, that under 245those senses which are inferior, substances should have been placed on which to exert their powers, but that under this power, which is far better than any other, i.e., the sense of mind, nothing at all of the nature of a substance should be placed, but that a power of an intellectual nature should be an accident, or consequent upon bodies?  Those who assert this, doubtless do so to the disparagement of that better substance which is within them; nay, by so doing, they even do wrong to God Himself, when they imagine He may be understood by means of a bodily nature, so that according to their view He is a body, and that which may be understood or perceived by means of a body; and they are unwilling to have it understood that the mind bears a certain relationship to God, of whom the mind itself is an intellectual image, and that by means of this it may come to some knowledge of the nature of divinity, especially if it be purified and separated from bodily matter.

In conclusion, I find the multiverse to be scientifically warranted in light of certain measurements and empirical evidence. I also find the multiverse to be philosophically and theologically attractive and compatible with all Christian doctrines.  The multiverse may certainly raise metaphysical questions of personal identity, identity over spatiotemporal duration/transition, and Christology (if and only if other moral agents exist other than ourselves).  However, I don’t find the questions it raises to be incompatible or contradictory to the Christian faith.  The multiverse is a beautiful reflection of God’s love, power, intelligence, and character just as we find in the doctrine of natural revelation.

For more information on the Christian faith and the multiverse (concerning issues raised here) I would encourage you to read Don Page’s essay “Does God So Love the Multiverse?“.  Page is a notable physicist having worked under and with Stephen Hawking.

*Here are a few of my blog posts and scientific papers on the science behind the multiverse.

September 5th, 2011

Living in the Multiverse–Is it Science?

by Max Andrews

Is the multiverse hypothesis a legitimate scientific theory?  That is, are there regularities that illuminate and reflect underlying laws of nature by testing these laws and making predictions that can be either verified or refuted by experimentation and observation?  Generally, these are the guidelines for something to be scientific, can it be verified and falsified?  Before I continue, we need to make a distinction in two fundamental philosophies of science: instrumentalism and realism.

Instrumentalism:  Scientific theories are not intended to be literally true and accepting a theory requires us to believe only that its observational consequences are true.  Observation statements are literally true and science is only about these statements and the observations that verify them.  A few strengths of this philosophy is that it doesn’t conflict with common sense realism; we can believe in straightforward observations.  Plus, it’s more modest and non-commital than scientific realism.  A few weaknesses are that scientists seem to assume the realist view of the world in their “un-thinking” moments.  The instrumentalist should be able to draw a clear cut distinction between what is and what is not observable, which creates limitations on what really is observable (i.e. naked eye, magnifying glass, microscope, electron microscope, cloud chamber, etc.). This also raises the question, at what point is the objecting being observed really being observed, and so real, but then one bit smaller is not observable and thus not really existent?

Scientific Realism:  Scientific theories are intended to be literally true, and accepting a theory involves believing that it gives a true description of reality, “as it really is.”  A few strengths of this is that it makes the aspect of explanatory power superior to instrumentalism because explanation requires real things that cause the chain of causality.  Explanation by means of fictitious entity is not explanation at all.  Instrumentalism cannot explain the actual success of science, especially science’s making predictions, which are empirically adequate (i.e. Boyles-Charles Law, pv=k).

I’m going to argue that we should adopt the realist position partly because it is common sense and because it means and ends in explanation provide a robust sense of explanatory power that lacks instrumentalism and the metaphysical baggage it may carry is less deleterious than instrumentalism.

June 15th, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘Source Code’

by Max Andrews

Ben Ripley and Duncan Jones’ recent film Source Code is loaded with philosophical underpinnings and pushes the edge of current science.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the role of an Army helicopter pilot (Colter Stevens) who faced a near-death injury in battle but wakes up to find himself in the body of another person, Sean Fentress, on a Chicago bound train.  Colter, while embodied in Sean’s body, needs to gather vital intelligence on the terrorist attack that is going to happen on the train in eight minutes to help prevent a future attack soon to come.  Though at times I got tired of monotonous scenes after Colter’s failed attempts the plot and philosophical and scientific edge makes a great film for those deep thinkers out there.

Inside the Source Code

This is how it works.  The Source Code is a computer program that takes the electromagnetic field from one person’s brain and allows that person to assume the role of another individual bearing the same likeness.  The personal duplication only lasts for eight minutes because that’s how much memory can be accessed by the electromagnetic field of the brain (per the movie).  The first important metaphysical question to be asked is how does this work with personal identity? For clarification I will refer to Colter’s embodiment of Sean on the train as code-world and Colter’s consciousness reflected in his personal self as real-world.  If real-world Colter assumes the identity of code-world Sean then what happens to code-world Sean at the moment Colter assumes his identity?  Now remember, code-world Sean was once real-world Sean during those real-world eight minutes Colter embodies Sean.  Also, code-world Colter was once real-world Colter at the same moment of code-world Colter going “back” as code-world Sean.  This begs the question, to whom do we predicate personal identity to Colter when he is in the code-world?  This isn’t so much of a time travel issue rather it’s related to parallel realities.  This may seem like Hollywood’s inability to be philosophically trained in consistent metaphysics but perhaps Ripley’s writing isn’t inept, perhaps it’s pushing the edge of contemporary philosophy and science!

Now let’s look at the issue of the parallel realities.  Max Tegmark is a leading proponent of the multiverse.  His is a little more extreme than many other proponents since he advocates a fourth-level multiverse, which is to say that mathematics is equivalent to physical reality.  The Source Code would be equivalent to the third-level multiverse.  The third level multiverse assumes unitary physics and that every possible physical particle interaction actually does occur.  Consider the illustration of a man and a woman who meet up for drinks.  It could go a number of ways, she could say, “Sure, let’s have a drink” or she could say, “No, I’d rather not.”  In this scenario both outcomes actually occur and reality splits and each story continues its course.  Now this model assumes that consciousness may be explained on the quantum level.  Source Code is consistent here.

The issue now is getting from one reality to the other.  Columbia University physicist Brian Greene is one of the leading string theorists and he believes there is a way to verify whether or not this can me done.  At the Large Hadron Collider in CERN hundreds of physicists from around the globe gather together and construct high energy particle experiments.  What happens is that they accelerate particle beams near the speed of light with the potential of producing 14 TeV.  These particle beams collide and reveal smaller sub-particles.  It works in a way similar to building a block made of legos and when you throw one block of legos at another block it was come apart and the smaller components will be left.  That’s how sub-particles are discovered.  Greene’s prediction is that when collision events occur and the data reveals that less energy is present than there should be then it may be that some particles, or energy, have been transferred into another brane (or another reality).  It’s not as though this idea is so far fetched or that it is unfalsifiable, branes may actually exist.  In regards to the modesty of the position this interpretation is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (though it still faces its physical challenges and dissenters).  The MWI was developed my Hugh Everett and Tegmark is the contemporary who has carried the torch at this point.

In order for Source Code to be achieved there would have to be a tremendous amount of concentrated energy, that would be the consciousness of Colter, and specify that on the consciousness of Sean (or the electromagnetic field).  The precision and energy are almost certainly impossible to harness that energy in such a specified way to be able to determine the specified outcome of each particle interaction from one brane to another.  It’s the concepts of merely transferring energy from one brane to another that is possible.  Source Code takes the advances of modern high energy physics and fictionalizes it to be able to traverse realities.  It certainly raises metaphysical questions of identity, which are quite worth entertaining.  We shouldn’t always shape our metaphysics to what knowledge of the physical world we do have.  Our physics may not confirm or suggest certain ideas like this but these hypothetical thought experiments are great mental exercises and thought experiments.  I really enjoyed this film simply because it made me think about how this could actually work.  The physics are next to impossible but the philosophy behind it is what makes the movie worth it’s praise.  The plot and character development isn’t horrible but, hey, there has to be some milieu in order to portray the idea.